Meth in Sanpete – Part Three
By James Tilson
“The thing that shocked me in recovery, I was at an honors meeting,…the floor was dirty and I vacuumed. And it went through my head, ‘My God, you’re doing the floor without getting high; you’re vacuuming the floor.’
“For most addicts, it’s like, ‘Let me get high, then I’ll do the dishes. Let me get high, then I’ll take care of the kids. Let me get high, then I’ll get in the shower’…(Drugs) become a god, it’s your god, and it’s like worship…”
—Recovering addict Diana Headley (not her real name), describing feeling ‘normal’ after years of drug and alcohol abuse
No one likes being an addict.
No one we spoke to for this series gave glowing reviews of their life while addicted to methamphetamine or spoke longingly of their days using meth.
It is also clear that very few people, and most likely no one, can break away from addiction by themselves. All of the recovering addicts, and all of our sources from the criminal justice system, agreed rehabilitation programs and support from a variety of people were essential for addicts to get back to a normal life.
Hitting rock bottom
Meth addicts rarely seek that help voluntarily. Nearly everyone who beat meth has to “hit rock bottom” before beginning to climb out. Generally, that means being arrested, charged with a crime and being required to get help.
Lance Martin, counselor at Central Utah Counseling Center, says almost all of his clients are court ordered. “Rock bottom” usually comes when the addict is sitting in jail, finally gets sober through forced abstinence and thinks to himself or herself, “What have I done?”
Headley is typical of that scenario. “I didn’t decide [to get sober]. The criminal justice system decided for me,” she says. “I was so far gone in my addiction that I was going to the point of no comeback, and I was OK to die. I figured there was no way out, that I couldn’t redeem any part of my life worth living.”
But jail alone doesn’t trigger a motivation to stop using. “There have been times when we have arrested someone after they just got released from jail,” says Det. Derick Taysom, of the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office.
The key to having the addict kick the addiction, says Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels, is to “first, be held accountable. And second, we want to give them the tools so they don’t come back.”
Residential substance abuse treatment
The two recovery programs administered by Sanpete County are Drug Court and the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) program.
RSAT, administered by Tonia Castro, a certified substance abuse counselor, is a 90-day program provided to addicts who are in the Sanpete County Jail.
The first step in the program is a drug and alcohol screening. Castro says the screening generates a score on a tool called Addiction and Substance Index (ASI). The score indicates the severity of the person’s addiction. The ASI also identifies people who have a mental health rather than substance abuse issue, or who have concurrent mental health and substance abuse problems.
From there, Castro puts people into a drug and alcohol education group. “I teach them about their disease of addiction, how it works, how the brain works,” she says. “I teach them about triggers, cravings, how to deal with co-dependency issues that come along with addiction so they learn how to recognize them.”
Castro also teaches addicts about Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). “That’s a big one, because, especially people coming off meth, they feel like they’re crazy, their emotions are all over, their chemicals are all screwed up. I teach them that PAWS can last anywhere from six months to two years. When they know about it, they realize this is part of getting clean and they don’t feel like they’re going crazy and self-medicate with more meth.”
The next part is Moral Recondition Therapy (MRT), which is based on changing their way of thinking. MRT helps the addict identify “criminal thinking” and rebuild a moral base. This component helps the addicts recognize and stop the thinking errors that put them in jail.
“It has a lot of little rules that drive them nuts. Like you have to do this in pencil, not in pen. And they always screw it up. When I give it back to them to do over, they say, ‘Aw, it’s no big deal.’ But it teaches them to follow even the little rules all the time. Because if you can’t follow the little rules, you can’t follow the big ones.”
The next phase of the program is Twelve Step Facilitation, which helps the addict understand the 12 steps, the precepts used in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.
“They get their hands held a lot with these,” Castro says, “because they’ve never done this before, they don’t know what it means to ‘work the steps.’ So, I work the steps with them, and when they go to meetings on the outside, they totally know what it means and how to do it.”
Finally, Castro teaches relapse prevention. “The main point of that is to identify the triggers. Emotional triggers, relationship triggers, mental/psychologic
al/physical triggers. Identify what can make you use again, identify situations that may have already happened before and then what you can do in that situation. And then make a plan (for how to deal with the trigger).”
In contrast to RSAT, Drug Court operates mostly outside of jail and for a longer duration. It is aimed at people “we’ve tried everything else with, and we’re at our wits end,” says Daniels, the county attorney. The program is administered through the 6th District Court and runs one to two years. Participants who successfully complete it have a chance to have their criminal charges dismissed.
Drug Court doesn’t always succeed in getting addicts into long-term recovery. Probably the majority of people who enter the program return to addiction. That is due partly to the type of people referred to Drug Court. They tend to be severe addicts who use substances such as meth and opiates.
Defense attorney David Angerhofer thinks the Drug Court works well. “[It] does address methamphetamine specifically, and they have success stories, and I think they do a really good job. I wish we had more funding to put more people in the program.”
But Jeff Greenwell. Sanpete County probation officer, says of the Drug Court, “It’s not as successful as I wish it was. What I’m frequently told by someone who has fallen off after graduation is they went 15 months, two years, with all this structure (provided by the program), and now they’re just booted out in the wild.”
Meth rehab is hard
Regardless of how someone goes about it, rehabbing from methamphetamine addiction is hard. Very hard. And for so many reasons.
The biggest reason, and the first thing everyone involved with the drug or with addicts talks about, is that a meth addict absolutely must change who they associate with.
“For all of them, if they don’t change their associates and friends, they will fail. One hundred percent of the time, they will fail,” Daniels says. “Those who have succeeded since I’ve been with the county attorney’s office, every one of them have changed their friends groups.”
Why does that make such a difference? Daniels has a simple explanation. “Misery loves company. People in the throes of drug addiction want company. It’s no fun to do drugs by yourself.”
“They come in here and do the program,” Greenwell says. “They go out, they bump into John Doe on the street who’ve they’ve partied with for years. Now their subconscious takes over…and there they go again. Whether John Doe is pushing them towards it or not, just the association can trigger a relapse.”
Castro says meth is particularly hard to avoid in Sanpete County. “I would say that, in this area, where it’s the predominant drug, and people are using it so cheaply, that it would be harder right now and right here (to avoid it). Because there is so much and so cheap.”
Along with the problem of changing your friends, Castro says, is problem of changing what you learned at home if you came from a family that was using drugs.
“When it’s generational, it’s extremely hard for them to get out of it,” she says, “because then you don’t have support. Most people, when a person is using, they will have parents who will support them, who are there for them. But if your parents are using, too, then the chances of you going back (to drugs) are super high. I see people in here right now, where they’re in this section (of the jail) and their mom is in the other (unit).”
But in the final analysis, Daniels says, an addict’s success in rehabbing will be determined by him or her. “One of the inherently difficult aspects of drug addiction is finding out what’s going to work for that individual. We try to get statistically the most successful approaches, but at the end of the day, it really depends on giving that individual the tools to find out what they can do to manage it.”
Sara Mattern (not her real name) a drug court graduate, agrees. “It depends on the person and their motivation. I think certain people and certain personalities will make it… A lot depends on how well you’re able to care for yourself on your own. Some are going to be institutionalized all their lives because they can’t (care for themselves).”
Many, perhaps most, addicts never summon the will to get away from their addictions. They go to the programs and submit to court orders, but their hearts are never in it.
Jeannette Jarvis (not her real name), the mother of a meth-addicted adult son, doesn’t think her son will ever get over his addiction. “He’ll be doing great and he sabotages himself,” she says. “…When he’s been in counseling, and they get to the issue, and it gets too painful, then he’s done. Walks out the door and he’s done. So he’s never gotten the help he needs. And when you have issues like that, they are painful, but if you don’t deal with them, you stay broken the rest of your life. And you can’t live life being broken.”
How addicts succeed
Just as there are reasons why it is so hard for a meth addict to kick the drug, there are factors that contribute to success.
First, sources interviewed for this article agreed, addicts must be held accountable for their actions, not just legally, but to their family, friends and themselves.
Diana Headley (not her real name) relates how “the thing that helped me the most was being held accountable with the judge.”
Andrea Sparks (not her real name) tells how she had to go to jail before she could believe she could get off the drugs. “I wanted to stop before, but I didn’t know how to ask for help, because I didn’t want to feel weak.” When help came, she says, “It wasn’t rehab; it was jail…I thought I was going to die. But in there (in jail), I started thinking, ‘You know, I can do this.’”
Sparks found time in jail made her focus on where the problem started—herself. “I realized I had to put myself first, I realized the only way I could pull myself out of it was to work out why everything was happening the way it was. I was putting blame in all the wrong places.”
Marsha Hunt (not her real name) put it more succinctly. “It’s a demon I must fight every day.”
All of the county’s programs aim at getting the addict back into real life. “It’s recovery-oriented,” Martin, the counselor with the Drug Court program says. “Somehow they need to connect with family, or through religion with the community in some way. They need a recovery support system. Finding the support group can be the thing that makes a huge difference.”
Castro does have some unusual advice for some of her clients. “I know AA and NA say ‘Don’t move away. You’re running from your problems.’ And I say the opposite. ‘If this is where you are using and this is your daily life to use here, then you need to go somewhere else, as long as you have support there.”
“I mean, I love Sanpete County,” she says, “but for someone who has grown up here, has used their entire life here, this place is a trigger. Every time they drive down a road, every time they walk in a store, all the people they see, it’s all a trigger.”
Once out of jail or graduated from Drug Court, an addict’s support system can take various forms. The addict will need to find a job. According to Martin, a job may be the most important part of a support system because the person needs a way to support himself or herself and begin to have some personal pride again. One of the services the county probation office provides is setting up probationers with job services and vocational training.
Central Utah Counseling Center also hosts AA and NA meetings at its center in Ephraim. “The whole idea of having a sponsor (an identified mentor with AA or NA), boy, I wish everyone would buy into that relationship. To have a sponsor who checks in on them, that they can turn to when they are struggling, that would be really helpful.”
The LDS church is expanding its outreach to recovering addicts, Martin notes. “Last week at Drug Court, we had two sets of senior missionaries attend to support someone in recovery,” he said.
For some, performing service can fill social and emotional voids. “I got into service for my community, by donating time at the (LDS) humanitarian center,” Sparks says. “At first it was court ordered and then (I continued) because I enjoyed it so much. After an hour of giving service,…I got over myself and the itching desire to use, and became beneficial to my community (and) around people who loved me…”
Hunt, a recovering addict, says without a multifaceted support network, she never could have stayed clean. “I went to NA seven days a week. I went to church every Sunday, I went to anything and everything I thought would help, as long as it was structured. If it wasn’t for my support group, my parents, my church, my sponsor (and) a couple of people I met through NA, I don’t think I would’ve survived. I really don’t think I would‘ve made it.”
The importance of community
Kevin Daniels, the county attorney and a devoted family man, says his own family’s experience shows how addiction can be broken.
His grandfather grew up in Ephraim in a family of 13 children. The grandfather’s father died in his 40s. The children still at home had to support the family by hunting, raising a garden and working for other farmers.
Daniels believes that early trauma contributed to his grandfather becoming an alcoholic. “He was a hard worker but he struggled with alcohol,” Daniels says. “The reality is my dad and his siblings could have fallen into that cycle…So what you’ve got to do is break that cycle.
“My dad had five siblings. All five of them are college graduates. All five of them are very strong members of the community, have raised great families, are just phenomenal members of society, (have) just contributed in ways that sometimes blow my mind.
“The reason why those five broke the cycle was because they had members of the community step in, and especially members of the family. So, if we’re going to fix this in this community, then we need a buy-in from all members of the community. The community brings in those individuals who want to break away from addiction. We need to be their friends and be kind.”
Sparks relates how important it was to her recovery to have understanding and compassion. “Who could understand me? That was my biggest fear when I got out of jail….Who can I talk to, where can I go, what am I going to do?” She says finding people on the outside who did listen, understand and not judge “was my biggest thing,.”
Headley says that being in her church choir has helped reduce her anxiety. “They’ve taken me in. And they’ve loved me through it,” she says. Being in the choir, she says, takes her focus off the depression and anxiety she frequently experiences. “Looking at those notes in the choir keeps me in the present moment and alleviates a lot of the stress and pressure.”
Having seen so many addicts go through her program and having observed how they have fared afterwards, Castro stresses how important is for the community to take addicts in.
“A clean addict is the best person you’ll ever know,” she says. “They’re the most honest, straight, direct people, people that you would trust forever, when they’re in their sobriety. I honestly think the people who would be there for me are recovering addicts.”
“I see the ones who leave here and don’t come back and are doing well. They say the reason they are doing so well is that someone took a chance on them.”